MY LESSONS LEARNED IN GROUNDHOG HUNTING

I was bitten by the groundhog or otherwise known as the woodchuck hunting bug at an early age.

The symptoms have just increased with age.

Now I am a full fledged groundhog or “whistle pig” hunting addict.

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With these symptoms my knowledge of what works for groundhog hunting in my area has vastly increased. Gained is a lifelong quest that I will continue to travel throughout my life. Here is how it all began and the lessons I have learned to this very day.

Starting out at groundhog hunting in my early years I was armed with an RWS Model 48 Air Rifle in .177 caliber. That speedy springer air rifle had a published top muzzle velocity of 1,100 fps. But those little pellets had to be surgically placed to drop a big groundhog. Picking the heavier weight pointed hunting pellets such as the Beeman Silver Jets resulted in more penetration and better game performance. I found at a sportsman’s show a strange red plastic box of air gun fodder named Prometheus Hunting Pellets. They were steel pellets housed in rubber skirts for extra penetration and ultimately higher speed. The penetration was very impressive and the hypersonic crack when fired sounded like a .22 high velocity long rifle cartridge. Still, it was a small ballistic pill to launch with not much in the way of stopping power. I needed something more powerful to properly hunt the all too common heavily built groundhog.

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At that point I inherited my grandfather’s vintage bolt action Savage Model 4C .22 rifle. It was his chosen rat shooter for the dumps that used to be open for pest hunting back in the day. It was straight iron sights and would eat anything I fed it from super quiet low velocity CCI .22 CB shorts to the 1640 fps zinging 32 grain .22 LR CCI Stinger cartridges. Now was the time to get more serious on hunting pests and namely the fat groundhogs that I frequently spotted. My main hunting area at the time was an old abandoned industrial mining area. Most of the area was overgrown with vegetation save for the right of ways and abandoned bulldozer paths. In that area one could walk right up on a groundhog and never see them until they scurried away. A few other areas had a little over 100 yards of sight where the soil had been stripped away years ago and not much would grow. Still the tough rodents seemed to thrive there eating any rough vegetation they could find. The longest shot was possible in that area was just a little over 100 yards away. I fired that one offhand shot, a CCI Stinger .22 LR cartridge, and connected with a large groundhog and knocked it over dead like a bowling pin. With that style of still hunting open sights worked well enough but for precision shots and targeting I really needed a scoped rifle. Below is that same rifle with a bunch of squirrels I harvested a couple years back.

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I then headed over to the local gun shop and invested in a Ruger Model 10/22 rifle. With 10 quick shots of .22 LR ammunition I was ready for fast action at moderate ranges. I topped off the fast shooting little rifle with a Simmons .22 MAG 3-9 Power Scope. After a couple hunting excursions, I realized the cheap wood stock supplied on that rifle would not do well for rugged activities. If I even laid that rifle on the ground sticks would leave impressions in the incredibly soft wooden stock. A folding Ramline stock that was tough as nails became the chosen one for all future hunts with that rifle.

Ammunition chosen for hunting for groundhogs was always an experiment in field accuracy and knockdown power. At that point I did not belong to a gun range that had benches to test accuracy. My sighting in shots were done by bracing the little rifle against a tree and firing at a target set up against a handy dirt hill. I had found out earlier bargain priced ammunition was less than spectacular against tough groundhogs. The Remington Thunderbolts led the pack as being the cheapest, and the worst in reliability, accuracy and they also fouled the action quite quickly. Subsonic ammunition of various manufacturers also was also a dismal failure. There was not enough knock down power to anchor groundhogs. The lessons were learned and the CCI Stingers became a go to cartridge for many years. That was certainly true until I tested the Winchester 40 grain Power-Point loads. Those cavernous hollow points at a full 40 grains hit hard on fat groundhogs.

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I experimented with other .22 LR. cartridges and found a Mexican made .22 LR cartridge called the Quik-Shok was made that fragmented into three banana shaped chunks of lead. These were high velocity cartridges with Eley priming. Each fragment went a different direction in the target. Groundhogs hit stopped quite quick with that load. I was thoroughly impressed.

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End of story on .22 LR cartridges, right? Hardly as CCI bought the Quik-Shok cartridges and then they reengineered a version based on the hyper velocity CCI Stinger cartridge. These new rounds however are segmented and split into three fragments like the predecessors did but look like the Stingers. They are also now 32 grains just like the Stinger is. I have become a huge fan of that cartridge for a moderate range walking rifle for groundhogs with decent field accuracy. Currently the name has been changed on the packaging to “CCI Segmented Hollow Point” instead of the past Quik-Shok name. It still is the same great load.

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Times change as they always do for better or for worse and my happy hunting grounds became housing developments. At this point I became friends with a farmer who had a certain field area and orchards that had plenty of pest groundhogs in them. The holes could be dangerous to his workers and his equipment. I just happened to know a young hunter who was quite willing to help with his dilemma.

After the first hunt I realized the game had changed. Each area you hunt will be different from the last area. The front of the property was an open farmed field. Early in the season there was no cover until you got to the orchard behind that field. The orchard was a mix of fruit trees in horizontal lines. Behind this orchard was a smaller field and on the side of that same orchard was another field and a pond. Surrounding this property was an overgrown area along with woodlands. There were plenty of places the groundhogs could be. Strolling slowly through the orchard lanes at a very slow pace afforded close to medium range shots if I stay concealed. Wearing a head net and at least olive drab colored clothing was crucial. Groundhogs can pick out a human form at a remarkably long distance especially when you are moving. The Ruger 10/22 rifle loaded with CCI Quik-Shok .22 LR Segmented cartridges spelled instant doom for any groundhog encountered in that orchard.

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The fields were another matter altogether. The front field was in view of the road and the spot where I parked. Walking in any animal that was within sight of me was long gone before I could get in a safe shooting position. A homemade ghillie suit jacket helped confuse the wary groundhogs on my way in and during the hunt. I once had a very curious police officer slow down his patrol car on the road to look closer at me before heading off quickly as if he saw a sasquatch…

The ranges had now gotten longer on my hunts. While the .22 LR was fine in the orchards it was not up to par in the open. I tried my single shot H&R New England Arms bull barrel .223 caliber rifle with a 4-16 power scope and a Harris Bipod attached but it was just not right for spot and stalk hunting. For that area also I felt the .223 cartridge was too much gun also. Off to the gun shop I went for a more suitable rifle for that hunting spot (I know what a terrible chore to accomplish but someone had to do it!).

I invested in a bull barrel Savage Arms Model 93 bolt action .22 Magnum rifle and topped it off with a 3-9 power scope. Paired with Remington Premier V-Max 33 grain polymer tipped .22 Magnum cartridge my range opened now to an honest 200 yards. It had a black synthetic stock which made it quite light and easy to carry. Now was the season for what I like to call the true walking rifle.

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I hunted for years on that property before it was sold to, well you guessed it, land developers. The bolt action .22 Magnum rifle was the absolute perfect rifle for that style of hunting and terrain. I did not change that rifle or ammunition once at that time when I found that sweet spot of handiness and performance. Why reinvent the wheel right?

Well what fun is just stagnating on something anyway?  Now in the newer areas I hunt I decided to try something different. I decided to look at what lever action rifles could do, namely for varmint hunting. I got range and hunting time with Henry Arms Lever Action Frontier Rifle in .22 Magnum with a 20” barrel. I do admit I really have a love affair with the .22 WMR cartridge for overall hunting at moderate distances where the bigger pests might be encountered. I found even with iron sights as a walking rifle this handy lever gun was a joy to carry. I also tried the longer 24” length barrel version of the same Henry Arms rifle. I found it more stable for supported shots such as from a handy tree, fence post, etc. I also like to feel the nostalgia of hunting with open sighted rifles and it lets me use my eyes more for finding the furry brown targets of opportunity. This practice in hunter’s skills pays off big when regular hunting seasons come back in. One could surmise it is practice for deer season when larger brown targets are the name of the game to fill the freezer. A hunter cannot have too much practice and too many days afield.

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What about the .17 HMR cartridge? It shoots flatter and faster than the .22 Magnum for certain. I live in an area with big coyotes and would prefer the heavier smack of the .22 Magnum cartridge over that of the speedy .17 HMR cartridge. Call it personal preference but shoot what you are comfortable with and don’t listen to nay-sayers. Be precise and handy with your choice as you are the one using it, not them.

Longer shots do call for more power though. The heavy barrel .223 Remington caliber single shot rifle I mentioned earlier from H&R New England Arms is great from a supported static position. That cartridge will reach out quite a bit farther and more accurately than any .22 Magnum could dream of. I also had a trigger job done to this rifle, so it has quite a light and precise pull. Once again, each hunting area has specific needs to be hunted correctly. When going long, pack a rifle and cartridge for getting the job done right with the first shot. If the area is shorter in range, lighter power (and report) cartridges get the job done in style.

Here in Ohio in areas where I hunt the distance for shots are generally well within the range of the .223 Remington cartridge. Longer distances can be tackled if need be by great classics such as the .22-250 Remington or any of the multitude of vintage cartridges made specifically for long distance pest shooting used by our grandfathers. There are also the newly invented or legitimized formerly wildcat varmint cartridges that pop up each year like weeds at the SHOT SHOW. Any way you look at it there is at least a couple dozen cartridges that are perfect for your groundhog hunting needs. It’s up to you to find the cartridge that best suits the way you hunt.

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Helpful hints I have learned while groundhog hunting is always be sure your face covered. The human face is like a danger flag to them. I also became a fan of the Shannon Bug Tamer Jacket. This mesh bug jacket has a hood and a cotton net inside of the jacket for a proper stand off to avoid mosquito bites. In hot weather soak the jacket in cool water (even from a creek) and it acts like air conditioning even when the hood is up. I have hunted in plenty of 90-degree Fahrenheit days and was in comfort. I own the Shannon Bug Tamer pants also but rarely use them as they tend to snag easier on low brush and briars. The legs of my regular hunting pants and my boots get sprayed with Sawyer Permethrin Spray. That takes care of any ticks or mosquitos that try to hit below the belt. Make sure to wear sturdy boots to avoid turning in ankle in a hidden tractor rut or a groundhog hole.

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Hunting groundhogs like any game requires patience, skill, gun safety and good marksmanship. Each hunt should be examined as an individual experience. These experiences then add up in knowledge of what works and what doesn’t work as well. Most of the fun comes with experiencing these lessons that become great memories more cherished as the years go by. Get out there an make some great memories of your own and maybe help a friendly farmer or landowner out in the process.

Do you like articles about the outdoors? You can follow him @ericthewoodsman on Twitter, The Classic Woodsman on Facebook, and @theclassicwoodsman on Instagram, and The Classic Woodsman YouTube Channel.  Visit The Classic Woodsman’s storefront on Amazon

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Post Author: enestor75